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Pete Lee: Opportunities and solutions for southeast Springs

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The Gazette's series on the challenges of southeast Colorado Springs has ably described how multiple factors, including conscious policies and neglect, have contributed to creating an area of poverty, blight and decline. The attendant ills of unemployment and crime inevitably follow.

With challenge, however, comes opportunity. On June 6, Gov. Hickenlooper signed House Bill 17-1326, the Justice Reinvestment, Crime Prevention Initiative. I sponsored this bipartisan bill with my local colleagues, Rep. Tony Exum and Sens. Michael Merrifield and Bob Gardner, to offer opportunities for innovative solutions driven by local decision-making.

Over the next three years, HB 17-1326 will annually redirect up to $4 million of savings from parole reforms in the Department of Corrections to loans and grants to reduce crime and promote community development in southeast Colorado Springs and north Aurora. This bill combines crime prevention, economic development, mental health and trauma recovery treatment, improving academic achievement, and strengthening families into the core of local public safety strategies. It could be the catalyst we need.

Designed to address the root causes of crime, including unemployment, school dropouts and lack of job opportunities, the bill empowers local criminal justice planners to decide how to spend the money. Local teams will consist of a diverse cross section of the community with expertise in education, entrepreneurship, youth and families, law enforcement and nonprofit direct services, and residents impacted by crime and the criminal justice system.

Knowing that small businesses create most local jobs, the loan program will provide up to $1 million for low-interest loans of up to $50,000. The grant program will fund projects and direct services by nonprofits, schools and local government. The grants can be used to improve academic performance, reduce suspensions/expulsions (consider restorative justice), promote parent engagement and provide community-based services. Grants can be used to facilitate neighborhood connections and community engagement, develop local leadership, increase employment, reduce recidivism, and increase the safety and usability of parks and outdoor space, all as identified by the local planning team. More information is available at transformingsafety.org.

— Pete Lee, Colorado State Representative, House District 18

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